Nine in every ten children in England tell us they are happy. That's the good news. Unfortunately that still means more than a million of our young people are unhappy, and as we marked World Mental Health Day this weekend it's worth asking what can be done to support the 10% who do not feel good about their lives.
At The Children's Society we have been finding out what children and young people feel and think about their childhoods for ten years now and our findings continue to surprise us.
When we compared children in England with children around the world, for our Good Childhood Report, we found ours are less happy than most. They worry about their friendships. They feel anxious. We looked at 15 countries- some rich, some poorer, and spanning the globe - places like Sweden, Poland, South Korea and Ethiopia, and found children in England had the lowest self-confidence. They were second from bottom when it came to feeling positive about their appearance. Why are our children unhappier than those in other countries? What can we learn from these other cultures and service models to make improvements at home?
The Government has recently made a five year investment of £1.25 billion in children and young people's mental health services. If this investment is going to improve children's lives however we need to think carefully about how it is spent. It is clear that clinical services need reform. Children need to be able to see medical professionals more quickly and they need to have a wide selection of therapies to choose from to help them overcome the most serious mental health problems. Services need to fit around them - they should not be a version of adult services writ small for children and young people, and should recognise the distinctive ways in which children experience mental health problems.
But, thankfully, these clinical services are only needed by a small number of our children and young people. Most of the 10% of children feeling unhappy in our national surveys do not need a psychiatrist. They do not need to be hospitalised. They do not need drugs. They just need to feel a little better about themselves. So whilst the £1.25 billion needs to be spent wisely, it's also worth thinking about how we can improve things for all children - regardless of whether or not they have a clinically diagnosed mental health problem - so we can prevent minor problems escalating.
Improving the wellbeing of children is about listening and taking concerns seriously. One way England could do this would be to follow the example of Northern Ireland and Wales, where every school has a counsellor. These trained and impartial mental health professionals help children deal with all sorts of problems, whether they are serious and need specialist attention, or where they are less serious and the young person just needs some reassurance and a little help to enable them to cope better.
World Mental Health Day is an opportunity to fight the stigma that still exists around mental health and have a broader debate about children's wellbeing. The Children's Society's research suggests that this is vitally important if we are to live in a country where our children can feel happy, confident and at ease with themselves.